Studios give back locally

The Burbank and Glendale movie studios famous around the world know charity begins at home.

The Walt Disney Co., Warner Bros. Studios and DreamWorks Animation each donate hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gear and volunteer time to a host of organizations annually. And they use the preferences of their local employees, as well as a commitment to children and the arts, as their guides.

The often secretive studios also work together on the charitable side. For example, all have donated money and expect to provide volunteer workers when a Habitat for Humanity project breaks ground in Burbank next year.

"In the business world, we may be competitors, but when we're working in our local communities, we are very collaborative," said Joan McCarthy, head of Disney's L.A. community relations department.

In 2007, Disney donated $1 million for the hospital's Roy and Patricia Disney Cancer Center, which opened last year.

Disney spokeswoman Lily Bedrossian said the studio has donated to all four local hospitals, and in 2009, the company gave more than $5 million in cash and in-kind donations to charities across L.A. Other beneficiaries include Burbank and Glendale school districts, Woodbury University, Glendale Healthy Kids and the Foothill Autism Alliance.

McCarthy acknowledged that charities routinely ask if a certain mouse or other Disney character can make an appearance at their events. The company obliges when it can.

"We're very careful about where we send our characters," McCarthy said. "We're sure that wherever they go it is a special occasion and community. We don't want to overuse them."

Even so, McCarthy said characters can be counted on at the Burbank Fire Services Day each year.

Last month, DreamWorks Animation, which has campuses in Glendale and Redwood City, launched a give-a-day, get-a-day program — the name is lifted from the plot of "Shrek Forever After" — in which workers are paid for a full day of volunteerism at a local charity.

"We very much wanted to put our money where our mouth was," said Dan Satterthwaite, director of human resources at DreamWorks. "We want to give people encouragement to get out there and give of their own skills, minds and hearts."

DreamWorks also raised more than $250,000 for Haiti in the wake of the earthquake, with one-third of the funds coming from workers, one-third from DreamWorks and one-third from studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg. A similar effort raised about $264,000 for the Alzheimer's Assn. and several other organizations.

The company hosts a pet adoption day and provides equipment for the Burbank Animal Shelter, and volunteers read to children on weekends at Burbank libraries. As part of its employee recognition efforts each year, it provides several workers with certificates for charities in the Global Giving program, and the employees choose where the money goes.

In addition to time and money, Burbank-based Warner Bros. donates furnishings from TV and movie sets.

Recently lamps, desks and bookcases from the set of "The New Adventures of Old Christine," as well as office equipment, made it to organizations including the Burbank Unified School District and YWCA, said Lisa Rawlins, the studio's senior vice president for public affairs.

The studio works hard to see that materials are recycled or reused, but she said time is of the essence.

"We're always trying to get another show on stage or people into office space, and we formed a network of nonprofits that understand the speed with which we need to work," she said.

Other Warner Bros. programs include annual scholarships to six high school students interested in the entertainment field, followed by job opportunities with the company. Three of those scholarships each year go to Burbank High School graduates.

In the last two years, Warner Bros. has given more than $500,000 to organizations where employees volunteer their time. Recipients include the Burbank Temporary Aid Center and Friends of the Los Angeles River.

Like the other studios, it finds a strong demand for appearances by its stars. Later this year, Warner Bros. will host disadvantaged local youth at a screening of the next "Harry Potter" film at Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

FOR THE RECORD: This corrects an earlier version to make it clear that the the Alzheimer's Assn. was not the only recipient of the roughly $264,000 raised by DreamWorks and Katzenberg.

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